Medicine from the Bee Hive





Medicine from the Bee Hive


by C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D


In ancient times raw honey was as valuable on the battlefield as it was on the dinner table. In fact, all bee products -- bee pollen, honey, propolis and royal jelly -- were essential medications for many ailments. Although the beehive's millennial track record is enough to satisfy some, skeptics might be interested in how science confirms ancient wisdom.

Bee Pollen is flower pollen collected by honeybees from a variety of plants and is the insect's primary food source. Pollen grains, which are flowers' male reproductive cells, contain concentrations of phytochemicals and nutrients. Bee pollen is rich in carotenoids, flavonoids and phytosterols.1
Studies show promising results regarding pollen's potential. In a placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial of 60 men, researchers from the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, found pollen extract was an effective treatment for prostate enlargement and prostatitis.2 In another study, mice with lung cancer survived almost twice as long when treated with pollen extracts compared with untreated controls. Pollen increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy when given simultaneously. Unlike chemotherapy, pollen didn't attack tumors but stimulated immunity.3
In a third study, rats were exposed to solvent vapors, simulating industrial exposure. This elevated their liver enzymes, indicating diminished detoxification capabilities. Liver damage was significant in the control rats, damage that was nearly prevented in rats given pollen.4

Honey is a by-product of bees concentrating plant nectars. It is mainly food for bees, bears and humans. The characteristic flowery taste of raw honey comes from the pollen it contains. Honey's ability to heal wounds and treat infections is quite notable. It also is known for its antioxidant, antibiotic and antiviral capabilities.
Honey is 18 to 20 percent water and is comprised of glucose and fructose; vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, K and beta-carotene, as well as minerals and enzymes. Raw, unprocessed honey has the most medicinal and nutritional value.
In a study of 104 patients with first-degree burns, researchers in Maharashtra, India, compared honey's effectiveness to gauze soaked in silver sulfadiazine (SS), the conventional treatment. After seven days, 91 percent of honey-treated burns were infection-free compared with 7 percent of those treated with SS. After 15 days, 87 percent of honey-treated burns were healed compared with 10 percent of the SS-treated burns. The raw wildflower honey formed a flexible protective barrier which prevented infection, absorbed pus, and reduced pain, irritation and odor.5
Researchers in Sanaa, Yemen, treated 50 patients with wound infections following cesarean section or hysterectomy twice daily with either raw wildflower honey or a standard antiseptic solution of alcohol and iodine (AI). The 26 treated with honey were infection-free after six days compared with 15 days for the 24 treated with AI. Furthermore, 84 percent of honey patients healed cleanly compared with 50 percent of AI patients. Honey treatment reduced the average postoperative scar width by nearly two-thirds, and hospitalization duration by half.6
Four mechanisms are proposed for honey's healing properties:
1. Honey is mostly glucose and fructose. These sugars are strongly attracted to water, forming a viscous syrup. When spread on a wound, honey absorbs water and body fluids, thus drying out bacteria and fungi and inhibiting their growth.7
2. Raw honey contains glucose oxidase, an enzyme that, in the presence of a little water, produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic. Glucose oxidase is destroyed by bright light, heat and pasteurization, so it is absent from most commercial honeys.7
3. Raw honey contains bee pollen, enzymes and propolis, all of which can stimulate new tissue growth.7
4. Honey can contain additional medicinal compounds, including essential oils, flavonoids, terpenes and polyphenols, depending on the plant from which the pollen was taken.7

In a laboratory study of 345 unpasteurized honey samples, the majority exhibited antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause food poisoning. When honey's natural hydrogen peroxide effects were removed, only honey from Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare) were still active.8 New Zealand's dark, aromatic Manuka honey also inhibited Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that can cause ulcers.9 In general, stronger, darker honeys, such as buckwheat, sagebrush and tupelo, have greater antimicrobial and antioxidant activity--enough to act as food preservatives.10

Propolis consists mainly of specific tree resins collected by honeybees. Bees use propolis like putty to seal cracks and openings in the hive, strengthen combs and seal brood cells. Propolis also helps sterilize the hive--the resins protect both trees and bees from infections.11 Most research has been conducted predominantly on poplars, but beech, birch, chestnut and several conifer species have also been studied.12
More than 180 compounds have been identified in propolis, and many are biologically active.11 Flavonoids are abundant, including many that are anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, antioxidant and/or antimutagenic and antispasmodic.13 Propolis is uniquely rich in properties which have been shown to inhibit cancer growth in animal studies14 and reduce inflammation as effectively as drugs.15
Propolis also contains organic acids and their derivatives. These constituents contribute antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral effects.11,13,16-18
In cultures, propolis inhibits the growth of various viruses and fungi including herpes, influenza, rota, candida and aspergillus.16,19,20 Many bacteria are also affected, including Clostridium spp., Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus spp. and Streptococcus spp. Propolis is active against bacteria isolated from people with upper respiratory infections, including penicillin-resistant strains.21
Propolis promotes pharmaceutical antibiotics, including streptomycin, penicillin, neomycin and tetracycline; the combined products act synergistically.21 Propolis can be taken in conjunction with prescribed medications but not in place of them.
Propolis is also a superior ingredient in wound salves and may help heal stomach ulcers. One tablespoon raw honey with propolis three times daily during an ulcer flare-up can be helpful. In addition to being antimicrobial, propolis is anti-inflammatory and detoxifying, and it stimulates new tissue growth.18

Royal Jelly is a thick, creamy fluid synthesized in nurse bees' bodies during digestion of bee pollen and secreted from glands in their heads. All larvae are fed royal jelly for three days, but the queen bee eats royal jelly exclusively, which makes her fertile and able to live for five to seven years. In contrast, worker bees are sterile and live just seven to eight weeks. Royal jelly has a reputation for maintaining youthfulness in humans, but research, while encouraging, lags behind that for other hive products.
Fresh royal jelly is 2.0 to 6.4 percent trans-10-hydroxy delta-2-decanoic acid (HDA) by weight.22 HDA is a monounsaturated fatty acid with a hydroxyl group. Hydroxy fatty acids protect skin from dehydration, and some are strongly anti-inflammatory. HDA may also be anti-inflammatory.23 Royal jelly also contains collagen; lecithin; and vitamins A, C, D and E--all of which benefit the skin.24 Concentrated royal jelly moisturizes dry skin and soothes dermatitis.18,25 Additionally, royal jelly contains all the B vitamins and several other compounds that help lower cholesterol. A review of controlled studies concluded that in humans, 50 to 100 mg royal jelly per day decreased total cholesterol by 14 percent and triglycerides by 10 percent.26 Royal jelly at a dose of 15 mg/kg body weight also slowed the development of atherosclerosis in rabbits fed high-fat diets.17
In 1999 researchers at the USDA/University of Arizona in Tucson discovered genes that respond to a 24-hour royal jelly diet--the process that turns ordinary bee larva into queen bees. At Northern Ohio University in Ada, rats fed only raw bee pollen granules were healthier and leaner than those fed standard rat chow. Clearly, there's something to that millennial track record.